Original post, 2013
The taxi took off in the light night rain beginning to fall over Havana. I felt fortunate to have snagged a cab and negotiated an eight-peso ride back to my hotel on the Paseo. Even in the soft nighttime light I could glimpse the cab’s bright blue and white exterior and nifty silhouette. Sliding into the back seat my eyes quickly hooked onto the shiny, duo-toned leathery upholstery, feeling thankful for my second lucky break of the day — catching another ride in one of Havana’s timeless beauties, often used for taxis in Cuba’s capital. Earlier in the afternoon I rode in a hot pink, 1957 Chevy convertible, sharing the classic kid with two new friends as we headed east along the city’s famed Malecon, humming along to recorded Bee Gees sounds drifting from the car cd.
Now, scanning the inside cab, I saw the classy Bel Aire script logo emblazoned on the dashboard and tried to guess the precise year of the car, although that was never a skill I had mastered. At most I knew the car was from the late 1950’s, thanks to the likes of Laverne and Shirley.
The nighttime rain had cooled off the still lingering heat of the day; temperatures were high and humid in spite of it being November. The darkened sky seemed nearly transparent as an array of nocturnal wonders half-filled the atmosphere, while sparkling dots flickered above my roaming cab.
The taxi stopped in front of my hotel — too soon for me — and the driver quickly got out of the cab to open the side passenger door, as Havana taxi drivers always seem to do.
“Esto carro, que ano lo es?” I asked in my beginner level Spanish, just hoping the driver would understand me. He did. I knew enough of the language to understand “1956.” Ah, just what I thought, give or take a year. Gracias y buenas noches señor, y buenas noches la Habana.
Original posting, Oct 2014
When I turned sixteen my parents threw a big party for me, called a “sweet sixteen” party at the time. The fact that my parents selected the party site without discussing it with me, or at minimum asking my opinion on a location, was a curious thing. But that they booked my party in a nightclub called the African Room, a place they had never visited and knew very little about, was even stranger. I just accepted that my party would be at a nightclub that at the time seemed a pretty inappropriate location for a girl’s sixteenth birthday party. And it was.
The African Room billed itself as “New York’s most Exciting Restaurant-Nite-Club,” and with its “Ubangi Supper” menu was not the typical teen's food choice at the time. Considering that all my friends were below legal drinking age it was a wonder the restaurant owners would even consider hosting such a party with no chance for revenue from alcoholic drinks, but they did.
My parents and I arrived at the African Room a bit early, before my friends arrived. Inside the place was lit up, but the lights went low once the nightclub part of the evening went into full swing, and seeing became difficult then. My friends complained that they couldn’t see what they were eating, and the food was different enough to begin with. Although tasty, the piles of food on the plates were a combination of various meats, vegetables and spices, none of which were recognizable, so we referred back to our menus to recall what we had ordered. Adequate lighting would have been helpful, but it was a nightclub first, second and third — a teen party venue, not so much.
The place was business as usual that night, though a long table was set up for my party with a clear view of the stage; other patrons would come in and be seated at tables, as on a typical Saturday evening. Adults, mainly couples at the small nightclub tables who were sitting close together, surrounded us.
At one point in the evening during our dinner the club manager went onstage. To my surprise he announced it was my birthday, which was followed by shouts of “Happy Birthday,” and applause from the nightclubbers around us. Then with the wave of a welcoming arm, the manager introduced Otis Blackwell, who was seated in the audience, telling us Mr. Blackwell wrote and composed the song “Fever,” made famous by ’50s singer Peggy Lee.
Mr. Blackwell stood up, or tried to, as he obviously had had two or three too many and swayed to keep his balance. He then wobbled from his seat to the stage and stumbled on his way up the few steps. Taking the manager’s microphone, Mr. Blackwell looked straight at me sitting before him, and still swaying to keep his balance sang “Fever” to me and then said, “Happy Birthday.” I had recalled hearing the song before, with its seductive beat and sexy lyrics, but mainly felt mildly uncomfortable with all eyes on me as the drunk onstage serenaded me. Not exactly an age-appropriate song for this older guy to be singing to a sixteen-year-old girl, but it certainly made an impression, and my sixteenth birthday party is forever a rock solid memory.
Thanks for the everlasting memories Mr. Otis Blackwell; eternally R.I.P dear man.
Original posting, Dec 2014
Believe me, elves are not what they used to be or likely ever were. I think their PR machine worked overtime throughout history cranking out the entire personality profile the world has come to define as an elf, that cute beyond words pixie whose claim to fame has been hanging out with Santa Claus every year. Elves never work alone it seems; they always work in teams as Santa's helpers, basically the man’s right hand gofers, so to speak, doing all the dirty work that Santa needs done. You know the routine, elves working like dogs doing all the big and little chores all over the place, wherever Santa needs them to be. From the North Pole to every single mall in America, and who knows where else? Plus it is smile, smile, smile - or so we are lead to believe. But hey, don’t get me wrong, really, I understand the need for assistants. To be frank, I would like one myself actually, but it’s the charade that has me riled tonight. What I saw earlier shot holes in that well fabricated gnome façade passed down from one generation to the next.
I was at the mall this evening. You know the kind that has a Macy’s or Nordstrom as an anchor store (this one has both), and the line around the interior mall Christmas tree was impressive - huge in fact, even with an expectation that the line would be lengthy, being Christmas Eve after all. Just like everyone else I know that malls during holiday season are where Santa spends his time, bringing happiness and requisite laughter and joy to the faces of little ones waiting good-naturedly, and with unparalleled excitment, to meet the man in red.
Well, this mall tree was surrounded more than once, more than twice -- I would say three circles worth as its diameter spread outward-- with waiting families of school age children, toddlers, and babes in arms. Things were getting a bit out of line, literally, as several kids ran circles around other kids waiting, a few of the youngest tots crying for whatever reason, or none at all, it happens, and one couple in an obvious argument of some sort didn’t seem to belong to any particular child, but perhaps the argument was about a lost child. Anyway, you get the picture.
From out of the nearby See’s candy store came two short people in green velvet clothes, little gnomes I promptly realized, who were Santa’s elves, half sprinting toward where a few kids were running-in-circles, whopping and hollering, disrupting the line flow and just having fun while their parents seemed resigned to letting the kids run loose, enjoying the freedom within the confined inner-center mall area. A thirty-something woman wearing a long red dress with various doily-like attachments was walking around the circular lines of people-in-waiting. A cross between a Maid Marion look-alike and how Santa’s mistress might look, she was carrying a silver platter with sprinkled cookies that she was offering to the tired and hungry souls waiting in line. She was all smiles and cheer, handing out her cookies and doing a pretty decent job of it, for I suspect minimum wage. That was moments before being rammed from the rear by an aggressive elf making a hasty dash to quell the kids’ fun. Seems there was a mall ordinance where Christmas tree lines were concerned, and free running and lax behavior are not something professional elves will tolerate. Within a few seconds after the green velvet ones appeared, poor Maid Marion-slash-mistress essentially didn’t know what hit her.
The silver platter went flying with cookies falling in the most ungraceful directions. These were two on-the-ball elves I could tell, but evidently were not adequately trained in customer relations versus security measures. It looked more like rough housing to us startled shoppers with a direct view of the action. Other elves appeared fairly quickly, moving away from the their positions at escalator bottoms, the information booth, and closest mall exit, taking positions along the unruly Santa line. These elves meant business, in spite of looking as ridiculous as a SWAT team in green tights.
A group of chatting teenagers had just descended from the upper food court area and were starting to walk away from the elf guarded escalator landing, when they were ordered to stay clear of the Santa line parameter. Not taking well to being ordered around by short green people, the now sneering teenagers began to gesticulate in unison, demanding to know what the problem was and to get out of their faces. Additional elves appeared, trying and failing to swiftly move the teenagers out of the center Santa area. A verbal confrontation resulted adding to the increasing noise level coming from the expanded waiting line area, beginning to disrupt the complimentary picture taking action happening on the left and right sides of the line. Parents holding their little ones, and family members tightly grouped together for a memorable shot before the kids actually met Santa, were moving positions to avoid being elbowed off the yellow picture “X” stand spot on the floor. They didn’t look happy.
It was at this moment that Santa began looking distracted, seemingly overwhelmed by the mayhem behind him. He left his red satin throne when he obviously couldn’t be jolly one minute longer and walked to the rear of the tree to talk with uniformed security who had been summoned over. Santa looked pissed. He talked for a few minutes with both mall security and an elf holding a walkie-talkie, then strode back to the Santa seat and quickly got back into his ho-ho-ho, Merry Christmas mode as he greeted the next waiting child. At this point I had had enough of this rupture of holiday tradition right before my eyes. I left the mall.
Flashes of possible reasons for what I had just witnessed around the mall Christmas tree flashed through my mind. Perhaps it was the broken economy, the stress of ongoing unemployment, or the mortgage meltdown that had everyone on edge. Maybe it was simply a breakdown in society of manners or patience or civility, or whatever it’s called that shows itself in ugly ways at holiday time, when no one really has the money they feel obligated to spend.
Walking to my car I turned to the right, passing the corner Olive Garden restaurant with its lights ablaze and people extending out the door onto the street, waiting to be seated. As I turned the corner I passed two mall elves on their break, smoking cigarettes. If the illusion of sugarplums, snow fairies and Santa’s little helpers wasn’t destroyed inside the mall I figured it most certainly was challenged right there and then, no "butts" about it.
Who is she, this person writing about the arts of her life, the passions, the learning? Notice how learning something is at the core of everything she writes — a different perspective perhaps from what other creative types write about, but it is real for this writer — this eagerness to learn and grow with new knowledge.